Manage risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, reminds QLD safety authority

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An incident in March 2019 in which a student sustained serious burns and a staff member minor burns during a science experiment in school prompted Workplace Health and Safety Queensland to release an incident alert.

The incident happened after methylated spirits were applied to substances that were hot. Another student’s clothes caught fire but it was extinguished without causing any harm.

To prevent a similar incident from happening again, the regulator reminds workplaces that are using, handling, generating or storing hazardous chemicals must establish a safe system of work, including a documented safety management system.

Science activities involving flammable liquids, vapours and gases, and combustible dust, a hazardous area classification should be conducted. Exclusion zones for potential ignition sources should be determined.

“Where possible, substitute a highly flammable liquid with one that is less flammable or combustible and design, install and maintain suitable ventilation and fire protection systems,” the alert states.

Other risk controls include:

  • Reading the safety data sheet (SDS) and container label to ensure the person knows how to handle the product safely
  • Never pouring a flammable liquid directly onto a flame or hot surface
  • Keeping flammable liquids away from ignition sources
  • Decanting flammable liquids in areas that are well-ventilated and free of ignition sources.

Vapour emissions can be minimised by only allowing containers to be open for the time required to decant or dispense a flammable liquid and closing the container tightly when it is not being used; removing hazardous chemical containers from the area when not in use; minimising leaks and spills by using small volumes and cleaning up immediately; and providing ventilation to prevent accumulation of vapours.

PCBUs are also reminded to train workers and supervise other people in controlling the risk of fire or explosion from handling flammable liquids associated with an experiment.

More information on managing hazardous chemicals in the workplace is available on Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s website

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